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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About LSD

Will it make you think you can fly? Is microdosing really a thing? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: LSD. Does it turn you into a gibbering simpleton or a Silicon Valley microdose king?

Lie #1: Do Acid Once and You’ll Be Plagued By Flashbacks For Life

Hallucinogenic persisting perception disorder is the name given to reliving psychedelic trips you had on a previous occasion. It’s in the DSM-5 (which means it’s a legitimate medical condition) and split into two types: one where you have isolated, vivid flashbacks to particular moments, and one where for ongoing periods of time, your vision becomes distorted or “noisy.” 

So, yes, it’s real: The lie is the idea that everyone who’s touched the stuff is condemning themselves to a lifetime of it — that at any point, they might be yanked from the material world onto another plane of reality. According to a 2011 study published in the cheery journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, while 60 percent of regular hallucinogen users had experienced some kind of flashback when they were sober, only 4 percent said they were in any way distressing or debilitating, and some scientists believe the actual figure to be even lower, with one telling VICE that the type of flashback that interferes with one’s life is something that only happens to one in many thousands of users.

You’re also not “legally insane” if you’ve done acid more than seven times (a bullshit fact that got spread about a lot during the Vietnam War by extremely optimistic draft-dodgers). Likewise, you’re not banned from ever flying a plane — while the U.S. Air Force isn’t a fan of acid veterans, the whole Department of Defense stopped testing for LSD in 2008, deeming it not worth it after millions of tests found only four users. So, even if the banned-from-flying thing were true, you’d be fiiiiine.

Lie #2: Ever Since LSD Was Invented, It’s Made People Think They Can Fly, Causing Them to Plummet to Their Deaths

An odd one, this. For decades, variations on the same anti-drugs cautionary tale regarding the fatal consequences of LSD were fed to people — endless reinterpretations of someone tripping so many balls that they thought they could fly, plummeting to their deaths as a result. However, until recently, there were only two high-profile LSD-related falling deaths, and both had other factors involved.

In 1953, Frank Olson (whose story is retold in Netflix’s Wormwood) was given LSD by his CIA handler against his knowledge, and nine days later was found dead after falling from the window of his tenth-floor hotel room. His death was described first as a “fatal nervous breakdown,” then as suicide, and rumors still abound that it was government murder. None of the theories surrounding it involve him thinking he could fly.

Meanwhile, Diane Linkletter died in 1979 at just the age of 20, after falling from a sixth-floor window. Her father, media personality Art Linkletter, said that despite the coroner’s verdict of suicide, Diane “was murdered by the people who manufacture and distribute LSD.” Again, no avian delusions.

In recent years, there have been a few more falling deaths attributed to LSD, but the majority seem to be from panicking or trying to evade police, not believing oneself to be capable of flight. And if you did think you were capable of flight, why would you test it by jumping out of a window rather than trying to float around a bit first? You’re high, not a dumbass.

Lie #3: LSD Is Fun!

It certainly isn’t if the LSD you’re referring to is Lumpy Skin Disease (i.e., the Neethling virus), a condition affecting cattle. It frequently involves nodular lesions erupting on a cow’s head, neck, udders, scrotum, perineum and vulva, and if you think that sounds “fun,” well, never start a party planning agency.

Lie #4: On A Bad Trip? You’re Fucked

Good news for disoriented, terrified people who feel like there are bugs crawling through their veins and see everyone they look at aging rapidly and horrifically before their eyes: You can get help. Rather than accepting that you’re going to spend what feels like an eternity in an ever-worsening hell of your own creation before waking up, sweaty and incomplete, feeling as though you’ll never quite be yourself again, you can instead be guided through the experience by “trip sitters” — if you’ve pre-arranged it, anyway.

Akasa Journeys offer “healing, growth, exploration and full-bodied sensations of joy” to people experimenting with psychedelics or going on entheogenic journeys within themselves. This might involve reminding people they’re safe, handing them the occasional glass of water as they trip balls or making sure people having a bad time know it will end. They use the same protocols as academic studies of hallucinogens do in order to minimize risk — they’re not going to suddenly turn around and do a big scary face to try and make you cry, or anything like that, that only a bastard would do.

While Akasa are based in California, they can arrange to travel to you for the right fee, or can help you go to them. It’s $1,000 for an initial discussion, a “sit” of up to eight hours and a follow-up chat. It’s quite a lot of money, but it might stop you losing your tiny fucking mind entirely.

Lie #5: Messing With Acid Is A Waste Of Time

While being really high and getting lots of work done have never gone hand-in-hand, there’s increasing evidence that microdosing, beloved by Huel-guzzling efficiency-bros, might be an effective way of harnessing creativity and improving psychological well-being. 

Or, it might be the placebo effect — the doses used are incredibly small, often less than a twentieth of what you’d use to trip, while the “using illegal drugs is extremely cool” element of the whole thing is pretty psychologically powerful in and of itself. One small-scale all-placebo trial led to some participants being adamant they must have been dosed, with researcher Balazs Szigeti telling Wired, “Everybody got tricked, because there was all this excitement. Everybody was pumped up, and people’s minds tricked them into believing it was a microdose.” (If you’re a fan of the ol’ LSD and want to be part of a global microdosing study, you can.)

In a Macquarie University study, self-reporting microdosers found they had improved focus and generally felt healthier mentally, although they did report increases in neuroticism. Surely, though, with something like improved focus, even if it’s the placebo effect, it still counts as working, right? It’s the having-your-cake-and-eating-it of the very small amounts of illegal drugs world.

Another way LSD can improve you is by making you more environmentally conscious: By reducing activity in the parts of the brain associated with ego, it allows people to feel more empathy for the world around them, even going so far as to anthropomorphize nature and “feel the world’s pain.” Author Michael Pollan has suggested that hallucinogens could be incredibly useful in fighting climate change by increasing the connections we feel both to the planet and to other species, while scientists at the University of California, Davis are examining how they can increase brain plasticity, allowing rigid, unmoving thinkers to accept new ideas and form new associations. 

Let me put it this way: When a Swiss tourist dropped acid at Disneyland Paris, fell into a lagoon and caused a 130-person all-night manhunt before turning up a mile away, nude and confused, absolutely nobody thought, “What a rigid thinker.”